The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘ethics’

SLAUGHTERHOUSES AND PLANNED PARENTHOOD

It was late summer in 1964 when I arrived on campus at the University of Chicago to begin my freshman year.  I met my roommate and started to settle into college life.  But the second day as I returned to my dorm from one of the orientation sessions, I noticed an appalling smell filling the air.  I assumed that somewhere there had been a break in the sewage system and that was the cause of the foul odor.

That night at our evening meal in my dorm’s cafeteria I happened to mention this to the new classmates I had just met.  I asked if anyone else had smelled the same thing I had and if they knew the source.  One of my classmates who had been raised in Chicago rather matter-of-factly said, “Oh, that’s the smell of blood coming from the animals being slaughtered at the Chicago Stockyards.”  I remember looking at the piece of beef on my plate and decided that I was through with dinner.

The good news about the Stockyards, which were about five miles from my dorm, was that smell which was recurrent, only wafted my way when the wind blew from the west.  The bad news was that the wind almost always blew from the west.  I couldn’t even imagine how intense that smell must have been to those Chicago residents who lived in closer proximity to the Yards.

Well, the Yards finally closed.  Perhaps that was because Chicago had finally relinquished and grown beyond its position as a major animal processing center.  Or perhaps, like the clever plan that Hitler devised for the placement of his death camps, it was determined that putting these buildings devoted to killing in relatively remote places, shielded the activities that went on from the broader public view and thus allowed the butchers of humans and animals to continue with less scrutiny.

If we had our present technological capabilities in the 1940’s and an undercover group had secretly filmed the goings on at Auschwitz and Dachau and released that film footage for the world to see, I wonder if that might not have greatly shortened WWII as people worldwide and within Germany itself might have been so aroused to action that the Hitler regime might have been defeated far sooner by conscientious people who said, “This is unacceptable.  This is inhuman.”

If we had our present technological capabilities in 1964 and an undercover group had secretly filmed the “processing” of animals at the Chicago Stockyards and released that footage for the world to see, I wonder how many of us would set aside that T-bone or pork roast and adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.

Most of us would prefer to live in a world where horror and atrocity in its many variant forms was not something to which we were exposed.  That is becoming increasingly difficult as virtually all of us now have the ability to get the news and see what is happening nearly as quickly as the events themselves transpire.  That is both the good and bad news of living in a technological information age.  And as much as we might choose to ignore the disgusting and prurient, there are enough of us who actually enjoy that sort of thing and are only too pleased to bring the most appalling stories to the attention of those who might have tried to shield themselves from them.

Perhaps the reason that there has been so much outrage and disgust about the  video taped interviews with three different Planned Parenthood doctors, routinely discussing the “transacting” of human fetal body parts, is that we have removed the abortion “process” from behind the walls of one of those nice, innocent looking buildings, and seen examples of what that “process” actually looks like, particularly in the third of these films.  And for all but the most clinical of us, that picture is disturbing at the least.

Some of that anger centers correctly about the abortion process itself.  Others are focusing on a corollary issue – which is whether people who are adamantly opposed to abortion should be forced to pay for subsidies to Planned Parenthood – although that organization adamantly denies that any public funds are used for abortive procedures.  But this defense, of course, begs a larger and more fundamental question.

Why should the public subsidize Planned Parenthood at all since we now have Obamacare which was supposed to have cured all our insurance and medical ills and deficiencies?  Cecile Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood is an ardent Obama supporter and activist and surely must be at least as well informed on the law as any of the robotic members of Congress who voted to pass this law without bothering to read it.  So if Obamacare is as efficient as the president claims, why is there a need for additional subsidies to groups like Planned Parenthood or any similar organization?

Perhaps Obama can address this issue when he returns from his trip to Africa having lectured the leaders of several countries on how they need to work on improving their record on human rights.

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THE PERMANENT POLITICAL CLASS

If you’ve read any of the liberal press during the last several years you have no doubt heard about the Koch brothers.  They are the favorite whipping boys for our leftist friends, spawn of the devil and the root cause of all evil in the country and the world.  Well, they have made a lot of money which used to be thought of as the source of all malevolence.

The objection that the left has toward the Koch brothers, other than that they are extremely successful, is that they are involved in the energy business which is causing “global weather change” and even more important than that, they are not ashamed to use their wealth to support candidates for public office or, as the pundits like to phrase it, “buy elections.”  That the left has no objection to other billionaires who subscribe to their own agenda doing the same thing is a matter for a separate conversation.

An excellent book by Peter Schweizer entitled, “Extortion” ( Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013) calls this theory into question – and does so with a great deal of interesting, detailed documentation.  The point that Schweizer makes in his work is that it is those in Congress actually extort these contributions from their constituents – and from those businesses and individuals which might suffer grave repercussions if they do not donate to them.  Schweizer uses the term extortion liberally throughout this extremely interesting book.  Incidentally, this technique is not restricted to members of Congress on only one side of the aisle but is well accepted and utilized by members of both caucuses.

Schweizer refers to those in power on Capitol Hill as the “Permanent Political Class.”  Once elected to office, we all know how difficult it is for a newcomer to unseat an incumbent.  And in the rare instance that happens, the power, influence and opportunity for self-aggrandizement is so strong that only the purest of souls can survive the overwhelming pressure to play the game – and sadly, that candidate isn’t running this year – or almost any other one.

A reasonable person might question why anyone would spend millions of dollars, and in some cases tens of millions, to secure a congressional seat which pays only $174,000 per year (plus some very attractive perks).  The spending on this year’s election is, by some estimates, going to approach $4 Billion.  That’s Billion with a capital “B” and will set an all time record for a mid-term election.

A further question is, what is it that large contributors get in return for their contributions?  Are they simply motivated by a sense of doing good for the country or are they merely trying to buy votes which are positively disposed to support those donors’ interests?  Or, more interestingly, as Schweizer convincingly points out, are they doing this because they are being extorted by those in power to make these contributions – threatened with adverse consequences and unfavorable votes should they withhold their donations.  How do veteran members of Congress perform this extortion?  The answer, while distasteful, is that they do so legally – but then, who wrote the rules?  They did.

Several years ago, two laws known by their acronyms of PIPA and SOFA were proposed.  These were supported by the entertainment industry because the two were purportedly designed to safeguard their intellectual property from theft – in large measure from Chinese pirates who stole new movies and recordings almost as fast as they were released.  Naturally, to secure a favorable vote on these two measures, Hollywood poured vast amounts of money into the PAC’s on which members of the committees that were writing these bills served.  Their lobbyists dropped millions of dollars worth of checks to secure their clients’ interests.

On the other side of the issue were companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook.  They were concerned that the way the law was written there would be a restriction on access to the internet.  They also dropped massive amounts of money in an effort to defeat the two measures.  That money went into exactly the same coffers where the lobbyists for Sony Pictures and their colleagues had left their deposits.  Schweizer refers to this procedure as “ The Double Dip,” and our politicians drool when they have the opportunity to play both sides against each other, collecting their tribute from all with great equanimity.

Another example of ways in which members of Congress can monetize the bills they pass is by passing laws which are so complex that no one understands them.  Two excellent examples are the PPACA (Obamacare) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Both exceed two thousand pages in length and contain language that is not only confusing but in some instances is contradictory.  Enter the lobbyists – to the “rescue” of those who are impacted by these bills.

Interestingly, each law that Congress enacts then goes into a second phase in which unelected bureaucrats “interpret and clarify” the language and meaning of the original bill.  Staff members, rather than our elected members of Congress, actually write many of the laws which their bosses then pass.  So who would know better than those who actually crafted the language of the law what that language means?

It should come as no surprise that many of these staffers realize that they can maximize their personal earnings potential by joining a lobbying firm on “K” Street – and those firms, realizing that they can charge enormous fees – sometimes at ten thousand dollars per hour – hire them.  Many times these firms hire the sons, daughters and wives of members of Congress.  Just another perk of having a seat on the Hill.  A seven figure income is not only a nice “perk” – but it isn’t a bad living.

There are additional reasons that our elected legislators raise money which go beyond making sure that they have a sufficient war chest so that they can get re-elected.  One of the most egregious of these is that, should they decide to retire from “public service” they legally can take whatever funds remain in their PAC accounts, pay taxes on them and keep whatever’s left.  But in the meanwhile, it’s perfect legal for a congressman to “lend” money to his PAC and charge “a reasonable rate of interest” on the funds so loaned.  One congresswoman “loaned” herself $250,000 at an interest rate of 18% per year.  That loan has been on the books now for over twenty years, despite the fact that her PAC has always had sufficient funds to repay the loan.  Perhaps she considers that $45,000 annual interest payment as “mad money.”

If this leaves you with a sense of corruption gone wild, then your opinion exactly mirrors mine.  It is perhaps the reason that I tend generally not to vote for any incumbent in elections, whether that person is being elected to a federal, state or local position.  There are exceptions to that rule – but they are few and far between.

“Power corrupts – and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  The Permanent Political Class knows that – and they’re smiling all the way to the bank.

SUPERFLUOUS

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HOBBY LOBBY

The Supreme Court heard arguments recently with regard to a privately owned company by the name of Hobby Lobby which had requested that they be exempted from certain provisions of Obamacare because of the owners’ religious beliefs.  Specifically, they wanted to be exempted from the requirement that they carry insurance which would pay for abortifacients for their covered employees.

I read the arguments made to the Supremes and their questions to attorneys representing both Hobby Lobby and the government.  Despite what has been referred to by liberal activists as another in the continuing “assault on women’s health,” the facts are rather clear.  Here they are.

There are twenty different prophylactics and abortifacients which the government mandates be available under Obamacare.  The company has no objection to providing coverage for sixteen of these.  Those include birth control pills and prophylactics.  Their objection relates specifically to the four which might terminate a pregnancy if one occurred – otherwise known as abortifacients.  We might be familiar with at least one of those, known as “the morning after pill.”

In light of the court case, an article appeared in the “Huffington Post” on April 1, 2014, written by liberal writer and commentator, Rick Ungar.  Of those on the left I have to say that I consider Mr. Ungar to be one of the most reasonable and rational who interpret and spin our news.  It was, therefore, with some dismay that I read his article which was entitled, “Hobby Lobby Invested In Numerous Abortion And Contraception Products While Claiming Religious Objection.”  The source of Mr. Ungar’s information was “Mother Jones.”  I have attached the link to the full article below.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2014/04/01/hobby-lobby-401k-discovered-to-be-investor-in-numerous-abortion-and-contraception-products-while-claiming-religious-objection/

If you were to read only the title of this piece, you might be led to believe that Hobby Lobby actively invests in pharmaceutical companies which manufacture abortifacients because they are trying to maximize their personal profits.  As you go into the article, what the company is actually doing is providing a variety of mutual funds in their corporately sponsored 401(k) from which their employees may select.

There are currently approximately 4,600 equity mutual funds which are offered to investors.  Any retirement plan administrator – an outside entity that has no connection to Hobby Lobby or any other company that offers this retirement benefit – determines which funds it will include in the plans that it administers.  But of the funds which focus on growth of principal, over 86% have some investment in pharmaceutical companies.  And of the growth funds that Morningstar rates with their highest five star evaluation, investment in pharmaceutical companies can be found in 99.3% of their portfolios.

There is an adjunct to Mr. Ungar’s accusations about morality in investing which he might not have considered.  The number of growth funds that invest in energy companies such as Exxon Mobil and BP approximate the percentage of funds that invest in pharmaceuticals.  If he takes his argument to its logical conclusion, there are a lot of his associates who support green energy who would need to opt out of their own retirement accounts to maintain their own purity of principle.

There is one realistic way that Hobby Lobby could avoid this possible conflict of conscience.  It could abolish offering a retirement plan for its 18,000 employees.  Would that be a workable alternative for Mr. Ungar, who does acknowledge that the company pays “above the minimum wage” – actually more than twice the minimum wage that is currently in effect.  But we should always remember that the left seldom lets facts stand in the way of ideology.

As a result of the Supreme Court hearing I thought that I would show some support for the company by patronizing them.  I had never before been in one of their stores.  As it happened, a friend had invited several of us to dinner and I wanted to buy a thank you present for him for his kindness.  He happens to be an aficionado of jig saw puzzles and I was able to find one that I thought he would enjoy on Hobby Lobby’s website.

I called their closest location to see if they had one of these in stock.  A very pleasant young woman cheerfully answered my call and directed me to the correct department where another cheerful young woman asked me to hold on while she checked to see if the puzzle were available.  After a very brief wait she returned to say that they did have several and she would be happy to reserve one for me.  I thanked her and said that I would be by later that afternoon to pick it up.

I had several errands to run that day which would culminate in taking Gracie for her afternoon visit to the dog park.  I wasn’t sure what Hobby Lobby’s policy was regarding allowing dogs within their store, so I called back and asked if I might take Gracie in with me while I picked up the puzzle I had reserved.  The young lady said that they would be happy to see both of us.  Naturally, this disposed me favorably to the company.

When we arrived, a freshly scrubbed, courteous young man asked if he could help me.  I told him that I had reserved a puzzle.  He immediately found it and offered to ring my purchase up at a register which was closed.  While I waited for my total, I asked him if he liked working at the store.  His comment was, “I can’t imagine a better company to work for or nicer people to work with.”

I wonder if Mr. Ungar or other Hobby Lobby critics have ever visited one of their stores.  My guess is, probably not.  After all, they wouldn’t want the facts to get in the way of their opinions.

 

 

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SELLING OBAMACARE

There’s no argument that President Obama is a good salesman.  He convinced enough people to vote for him to give him two terms in the White House.  P. T. Barnum would be proud of him.

So today, the Salesman in Chief turned his attention to Obamacare with a press conference.  Not surprisingly, he was surrounded by a group of people who will benefit from the ACA – and it is undeniable that there will be people who will benefit from it.  Those people are individuals with pre-existing conditions.  But the problem for this grand scheme is that there will be few else who will be able to make that statement.

It seems to me that enthusiasm for Obamacare is not much different than the reaction one might expect from a diffident bachelor whose friends are fixing him up with a blind date.  The young man asks, “What’s she like?”  To which he receives the answer, “She’s got a great personality.”

One of the statements that the President made today was that a person could purchase a plan at a mere one hundred dollars per month.  That’s an interesting statement.  Particularly as over the last five days I went to the exchanges for thirty-two states (which actually were semi-functional) to get quotes.

The quotes that I requested were for a 21 year old individual female.  This is the least expensive category of applicant that I was able to find.  Let me give you an example of premium and coverage costs for an applicant in just one of those states, Nevada.  The premiums varied by a few dollars depending on the state.

So, Ingrid Johnson, a single 21 year old wants the most affordable plan that is available under Obamacare in Nevada.  She is a non-smoker.  The least expensive plan available to her is what is known as a “Catastrophic” policy.  This is intended to cover her should she develop a serious medical condition.

Her premium cost for this policy is $143 per month.  (Not the $100 cited today by the President in his press conference).  But there is an annual deductible before she receives one dollar of benefit in the amount of $6,250 per year.  In other words, she will have to pay out $7,966 before her insurance starts paying any of her medical expenses.  That works out to an out-of-pocket cost of $663 per month.

But let’s assume that Ingrid has a small income and the full amount of her premium cost is subsidized by the Federal government.  That means she is still responsible for the full deductible before she receives benefits.  That translates to a monthly premium of $520 per month.

Perhaps the President is relying on the fact that the math skills of Americans is exceptionally poor.  Perhaps he is hoping that one of the glitches with the iPhones to which he has recently referred is that the built in calculators are malfunctioning.  Perhaps he just thinks that Americans are just plain stupid.  But the math and the President’s statements just don’t relate well to each other.

It’s seldom that I offer the President advice.  But here goes.

If the President wants to sell this to America, I can think of nothing that would be more effective than that he issue one of his executive orders and require that he and his family, the Congress, the members of the Supreme Court and all the toadies in the administration be enrolled in it.

That might get America a little more enthusiastic about the greatest Ponzi scheme ever concocted by Washington.

A PROFILE IN COURAGE

If you ever want to have a keen glimpse of what it is like feeling disheartened, I suggest you spend several decades as a Republican precinct worker in the City of Chicago.  On this subject I speak from personal experience.

There are 2,069 election precincts in the City of Chicago.  In the last twenty years, there is only one that consistently went to Republican candidates.  That is less than five hundredths of one percent.  Sadly, my work on behalf of Republican candidates did not occur in that particular precinct.

So why did my colleagues and I persist in this nearly masochistic endeavor?  The answer is simple.  We continued to beat our heads against the wall and get beaten up by our opponents because we believed that what we were doing was the right thing.

Back in the days when I was involved in local Chicago politics it was much more difficult to get out the vote, such as there was of it, than today.  There was no such thing as early voting.  If you wanted to exercise your civic responsibility you either had to apply for an absentee ballot or you had to show up personally at the poll on Election Day.

Many of those who voted Republican were senior citizens.  And with elections taking place in November, one of the major responsibilities for precinct workers was driving them to the polling place and then returning them to their residences and picking up the next group so that they could avoid the generally inclement weather.

The work was anything but glamorous but it was necessary to try to get out every single voter in order to try to reduce the plurality of votes that we knew would be cast by our opponents.  While we knew there was no chance that a Republican would win a local office, there still was the possibility that the party could elect someone for statewide or national office.

Sometimes accomplishing this, I am a little embarrassed to say, involved offering the voter a small bribe.  I recall one conversation I had with a lady who is now deceased, Estelle Schwartz.  She was feeling a bit under the weather and it was particularly cold that Election Day.  She was concerned about catching pneumonia while waiting in the line to get into the polls.

Despite my great powers of persuasion, I could tell that her fear of illness was overcoming my oratory.  So I asked her, “Estelle, do you like jam?”  She responded that she liked certain jams a lot.  So I said, “I just made up two batches of jams.  Would you prefer strawberry or blackberry?”  The word “blackberry” struck a chord and her face lit up.  “Does your blackberry jam have a lot of seeds?”  I explained that I had removed the seeds before putting it in the half pint mason jars.  This was a good thing because apparently the seeds worked their way under her dentures.  So I drove Mrs. Schwartz to and back from the polls and early that evening when the polls had closed dropped off some blackberry jam for her.  (She told me later that she had enjoyed the jam a great deal).

Despite all the efforts that my co-workers and I exerted, we knew going in to each election that we were going to lose.  And yet we kept putting forth our best efforts.  That is truly a lonely feeling – and most of my non-political friends thought I was either crazy, stupid or both.  Perhaps they were right.

And that brings me to the subject of the junior senator from the State of Texas, Ted Cruz.  As I write this he has just concluded his marathon speech on the floor of the U. S. Senate – protesting, as he promised he would when he was elected, to do everything within his power to disable, defund or destroy the law best known as Obamacare.  He is fighting a losing battle.  I am confident that Senator Cruz realizes that.

So why did this freshman senator engage in this futile effort?  Several more senior Republican senators and conservative commentators have suggested that this is merely an exercise in self-promotion.  They further suggest that this strategy, with its possibility of shutting down the federal government, with have adverse implications for the Republican party in the mid-term elections next year.  Perhaps one or both of those statements are true.

But while those who are part of the Washington establishment focus themselves on the possible results of the next election, they have lost sight of the fact that in following their middle of the road mediocrity, they have lost the country and our Constitutional government with its promise of rights and protections.

So my hat is off to Sen. Ted Cruz and to those few other Republican senators of principal who stood up with him, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Marco Rubio.  If this country has any hope of returning to a Constitutional Republic and to get us back on the path of rationality, it is men and women like these who will lead that effort.

And to those who are primarily motivated by their concern for getting re-elected rather than by doing the right thing for America, I would tell them that they did not deserve to serve the people in the first place and most certainly do not deserve to be retained by them.

WHAT, ME BOTHER?

My instructor in debating emphasized I don’t know how many times, that engaging in “ad hominem” arguments was a major no-no.  In other words, it was appropriate – even desirable – to make counter arguments to those your opponent set forth – but it was not acceptable to say something like, “Well, I’m not surprised to hear you say that.  That’s just the kind of thing I would expect from someone as ugly as you.”

Those instructions really stuck with me.  Therefore, it is difficult for me to “attack” someone without feeling at least a small quiver of guilt that I might be engaging in that sort of argumentation.  Fortunately, I have been able to resolve this dilemma by substituting an “ad hominid” argument in place of the tabooed “ad hominem” one.

As you know, the family “Hominidae” includes both man and our fossil ancestors.  I am not sure if the classification covers Neanderthals – but for my purposes I’m going to include them as well.  (This is a modern day and I feel fully entitled to mold the facts to my liking just in case I ever want to apply for a position on the staff of “The New York Times”).

So, speaking of Neanderthals, as you probably know, Eliot Spitzer is running for the position of Comptroller of my birthplace, New York City.  It’s been five years since he resigned his position as governor over some minor, habitual inappropriateness with a stable of high end hookers.  Amazingly, his wife Silda has stuck with him during what must have been an extremely difficult time for her.

During Spitzer’s tenure as Attorney General, he mercilessly attacked both the New York Stock Exchange and the financial industry for their outrageous behavior.  (This, of course, included something that was really not his business – executive compensation).  Now considering his personal habit of dropping twenty grand for a night of pleasure with his sex partners, one has to wonder how he defines “excessive”.

But there is one thing that Mr. Spitzer has not done excessively.  That is take the time and exercise his responsibility to vote.  Yes, he was “so busy” last year around election time – flying to California to do a TV show – that he neither got around to procuring an absentee ballot nor did he show up personally on Election Day.

We all make mistakes and certainly an important public figure must have many demands on his time.  I presume that explains his similar failure to get out to vote on two previous occasions – in 2007 and 2003.  In his defense, he did cast a ballot in each election in which he was running for orifice office.

With what might be called a “checkered career,” it is hard to imagine what line of work Mr. Spitzer might next pursue should his bid to return to public office fail this November.  Perhaps he might want to team up with sexting star, Anthony Wiener, whose run for Mayor seems to have taken an abrupt turn for the worse with the revelation that long after he was “cured of his bad behavior,” new photos and messages have started to surface.

I can see the two of them working together as a comedy team, perhaps calling themselves, “Latke and Hamentash”.  I’m sure that the duo would play well to OWS – or any other group that includes Neanderthals in its membership.

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